The Quintessence of the Philosophers
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Not much is known about Theodorus Mundanus, except for his mention by the diarist, John Evelyn. Evelyn was an acquaintance of W. Dickinson, to whom this short tract is addressed to, and upon visiting Dickinson, was informed that he had met Mundanus who claimed he was an adept in alchemy. Evelyn recorded the visit: 'I went to see Dr. Dickinson the famous chemist. We had a long conversation about the philosopher's elixir, which he believed attainable and had seen projection himself by one who went under the name of Mundanus, who sometimes came among the adepts, but was unknown as to his country or abode; of this the doctor has written a treatise in Latin, full of very astonishing relations.'
This book has 21 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1684.
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Excerpt from 'The Quintessence of the Philosophers'
Although very many letters relating both to business and Civility, as is most agreeable to a man of my character, and continually written by me, arid no Time does more please and truly delight me, than that which is spent in philosophical reading, and contemplation; yet sometimes I am constrained to give Answers to philosophical letters very unlike the mariner of philosophers; because for some reasons (which they cannot but conjecture) I would not appear in the dress of a philosopher; but rather to write in such a form, which may deserve the name of imprudence or ignorance: However my very learned friend, so greatly was I delighted, and as it were ravished, with your most ingenious, elegant, and excellent philosophic letters, dated the last of July 1683, that had not your most courteous and friendly deportment, Chymical Industry, candour of behaviour, and all kind of Learning extorted from me a promise, I could not but at this time give an Answer to them and your demands with so much clearness as may agree with former obligations, and the Rules of Secret Philosophy.
And I ingeniously profess, so far as those Rules will beare an Amplification, without a rupture, I shall for your sake, dilate arid extend them.
About 20 years ago in my travels through all England, where in my passage and short stay at that harmonious and splendid University of Oxford, I had the favour and happiness to come to your acquaintance and be an eye witness of your great Labour and Cost bestowed on the Chymical Art.
I was filled with great joy that I found to meet together in one man, probity of behavious, variety of ingenuity, a Studious genius of Pyrotechny, with the true principles of philosophy: that I had a mind in my letters to promote and illustrate the principles of my philosophy to you, to confirm your earnest and diligent search of the True Science: And if you will remember I gave my councel in this Thing in a letter from London, wherein I payed my Thanks for that most courteous entertainment I received from you at oxford; which undoubtedly I had performed, had I now afterwards heard that your weighty employ in Medicine, and great esteem would not hereafter permit you -to be at leasure, for chymical experiments. For this cause I altered my purpose, of having further acquaintance and commerce with; although I can never recruit the Veneration I have towards your signal Eminency. But when on my return to England in 1679, I heard again of your Name and fame at London; and at that time when meeting together with my friend Beckett, I found your Love of Chymistry, not altogether extinct, but contracted, and covered over with business, like fire with hot ashes. And perceived by the furnaces newly built by which, your Chymical desire, like fire afresh stirred up, I greatly rejoiced at this Sight, both for your own sake, (being well persuaded that by the blessing of God) prospering your painfull sagacity, at length you would obtain that, which would abundantly recompence your labour and Cost; as also for the sake of the Art itself, which in my opinion such an ingenious, honest and prudent Lover of it, by an undoubted Argument, how great an opinion I had of you, and how honorably I thought of you, and that I might the more confirm you in the principles and practice of philosophy, not long after in your presence, I made those two projections; And what I say ought not to be questioned, lf I affirm for certain, that, although I have been an Adept philosopher more than 40 years, I never made known myself, or the Verity of the Art to 3 persons, besides yourself. But this my silence and recess, is not to be imputed to pravity of mind, or envy, but to a just fear, and necessary care, which becomes every wise man to use, for his own safety.
There are many examples and proofs of Dangers, Imprisonments, and untimely deaths, which philosophers have brought upon themselves, to the knowledge of others. If other arguments were wanting, the things which have of late happened to my friends the philosophers of France, would give me sufficient admonition and what happened in times past to Raymond Lully in England, they may also teach you to be wary, if at any time the Almighty God shall Crown your Chymical Endeavours with a desired event.
Some portions of the Elixir, or Transmuting Powder have come to the hands of wicked men; but it has been a snare, and destruction to them.
But my dear friend, be fully persuaded of this, that those philosophers which know the nature and intimate Mysteries of this Art, were eminent in Piety and honesty, and had performed many magnificent and famous words to the Glory of God, the good of Mankind, and the peculiar profit of the common weale where they lived, if they doust discover their faculty of doing those things, but such is the parvity of mortal man, such the covetousness no less of the superiour, than inferiour; but no sooner has a philosopher made himself known, but he is presently exposed to imprisonment by the injurious and treacherous inclinations of ill men; nevertheless, there is extant in many countries great Monuments of liberality and magnificience and in every age great works have been performed by them which have not been publically known to be by the help of the Elixir, or to proceed from their beneficience, who were indeed the author.
I shall only produce 2 examples of their magnifience; first, that which was done by a philosopher of your own land: The 2nd. because it was done in your own country, for a Regint of unblainable credit, hath noted that your countryman Ripley for many years successively sent 100,000 pounds annually to the Knights of Rhodes, to sustaine the War against the Turks.
Production notes: This edition of The Quintessence of the Philosophers was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 23rd May 2019, and updated on the 31st March 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Smokers in an Interior' by David Teniers the Younger.